I like the strong, bitter, almost meaty flavour of rocket. It seems to be a love it or hate it affair with this leaf and I’m firmly in the love-it camp. Rocket works not just as a salad leaf to perk up an otherwise boring lettuce salad, it also comes into its own used as a herb in pesto. The fact that it’s priced like a salad leaf, not a herb, also boosts its popularity in eatdrinkcooktravel land.
I’m normally quite lazy when it comes to pesto, so lazy that I don’t even want to break out the food processor for it. That’s why my favourite way to make pasta in pesto is a sort of deconstructed version.
This recipe is the first of a loose series of pesto-inspired experiments. Pesto is a typical Italian pasta dressing. It’s associated with Genoa in the Liguria region, an area famous for olive oil and apparently perfect basil with the most ideal balance of flavours. Italian mamas make it by pounding garlic, basil leaves, pine nuts in a mortar and pestle, hence the name. Grated pecorino cheese is then stirred in to complete the pesto.
I’ve only made pesto using a mortar and pestle once and learned my lesson after that: it is long, hard work. Some people swear by using a mezzaluna for the job but purists just laugh. Now I use a food processor like the average sensible modern cook.
In this recipe I use parmesan cheese simply because it’s the easiest to find. Please use pecorino if you can find or afford it.
1 handful pine nuts
pinch coarse sea salt
2 cloves garlic
50-100 g (one supermarket pack) basil leaves, stems discarded
1 handful parmesan cheese, finely grated
3 tbsp best extra-virgin olive oil
Toast the pine nuts in a hot frying pan. No need to add oil, just toss frequently till golden brown.
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse, scraping down frequently, till just smooth.
Use to dress pasta or drizzle over minestrone soup. It can keep in the fridge for a while. Make sure the top is covered with oil.